Macromedia launched Flash 1.0 (originally FutureWave SmartSketch) in 1996 with a grand vision: A single multimedia platform that would work flawlessly in any browser or any computer. No pesky browser interoperability issues, no laborious cross-browser testing. Just experiences that looked and acted the same in every browser.
A slick GUI, novel drawing and animation tools, and a simple scripting language made Flash a smash hit. Many artists, developers, filmmakers, and storytellers (myself included) were smitten. The platform sparked a revolution of multimedia websites rife with elaborate mouseover effects, thumping electronic music, and motion-sickness-inducing transitions. Corporations and businesses of all shapes and sizes created Flash websites. Millions of Flash-based games hit the web via sites like Newgrounds and many popular games were developed with Flash, including Angry Birds,Clash of Clans,FarmVille,AdventureQuest andMachinarium.
Flash also became a popular animation tool. Hit kids’ shows like Pound Puppies and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and comedy series like Total Drama and Squidbillies were made exclusively in Flash. The 2009 Academy Award nominated animated movie The Secret of Kells was also made in Flash. Then, of course, there was the Internet phenomenon Homestar Runner—animated web series, interactive website, and games hub.
In 2005, Macromedia was purchased by Adobe. That same year, YouTube launched. The streaming video service used the Flash player to deliver video to millions. At one time, 75% of all video content on the web was delivered via the Flash player.
Over the years, Flash grew, but didn’t necessarily improve. Its codebase became bloated and processor-power hungry. Then Apple released the iPhone, famously without Flash support. Flash used software rendering for video, which hurt battery life and performance on mobile devices. Instead, Apple recommended the HTML5 <video> tag for video delivery on the web, using formats which can be rendered in hardware much more efficiently. YouTube added support for HTML5-friendly video and in 2015 announced that it would drop all support for Flash.
Flash is also, at its core, a closed and proprietary platform. Its code is controlled exclusively by Adobe with little or no community support.
Finally, Adobe itself announced the end of Flash. The company will no longer support Flash after 2020. It will continue to support Adobe AIR, however, which packages Flash material and scripts into a runtime for desktop and mobile devices.
Flash undoubtedly made a huge contribution to the web, despite it’s drawbacks. It triggered a wave of creativity and inspired millions of people around the world to create digital media for the web.
In my next post, Life After Flash, I’ll walk you through some of new open standards, tools, and technologies that make online multimedia more performant and interactive than ever.
About Dustin Driver
Journalist, tech writer, and video producer helping Mozilla keep the Web open and accessible for everyone.